Seeking the spirit in administrative jobs

December 1, 2013


Many administrators at Catholic institutions first got into the work because they felt a calling, because they wanted to use their talents to care for, educate or assist others. But between setting strategy, budget meetings and — oh, wait, is that a new email that requires an immediate response? — it can be easy to lose sight of the spiritual meaning of the work.

Author Ann M. Garrido tackles this topic in Redeeming Administration: 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders in Parishes, Schools, Religious Communities, and Other Institutions. Garrido, a longtime faculty member and administrator at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, teaches corporate employees communication and conflict negotiation skills as part of her fellowship at the Triad Consulting Group in Cambridge, Mass. She spoke with Catholic Health World about how administrators in Catholic health care, from chief executives to managers, can reconnect daily to the meaning and mission of their work as they execute and manage an organization's vision and policy.

Q. What qualities are most important for leaders of Catholic organizations? Are these different from the qualities of leaders of other-than-Catholic organizations?

A. The skills that are expected of leaders of Catholic organizations, of faith-based organizations, are the same kinds of leadership skills that are needed by leaders of non-faith-based organizations, with one exception. I think leaders in Catholic institutions also need a capacity for theological reflection. They need the capacity to help make connections between faith and life for themselves and for their organization. They need to be able to link how the day-to-day work of their organization somehow fits into the larger question of the reign of God, what God's dream is for this world. That is a skill set that requires some knowledge of the faith. It requires some theological education for oneself, but it also requires the capacity to make some connections between what you study in theology and what you live in day-to-day life. Through theological reflection, one can find a way to look at mundane tasks of everyday life through the lens of faith.

Q. Could you give an example of that?

A. We really preach about forgiveness all the time in our churches. But actually thinking about the role that forgiveness plays in the day-to-day workplace with a boss that you're struggling with, or a business director that you really don't see eye to eye with in decision-making, that's an opportunity to practice the virtue of forgiveness. This is simply about reflecting on what you are already doing, the ways in which your job is already shaping and forming you. Is it shaping and forming you in a healthy way, that you're actually becoming a better person, a holier person in your work? Or is it shaping you in ways that make you more difficult to work with, more challenging to work with? Are we being formed by our work into better Christians?

Q. What is it about an administrator's daily tasks that make it a challenge to keep a mission-oriented focus?

A. Administrative (work) by its very nature has a lot of interruptions. There are always small tasks that need to be done, and they almost always have some sort of urgent component to them. Sometimes I describe it as being "stoned with popcorn" — it's easy to get distracted by lots of little requests throughout the day. It's difficult in an administrator's calendar to carve out the blocks of time that one needs to really think fresh thoughts.

Studies show that persons charged with administration frequently report a high sense of shame that appears to be rooted in a certain experience of impotence: they have positions with lots of responsibility, but often not enough power to affect change they know needs to happen. Part of becoming an effective, holy administrator is coming to terms with what change one person can affect, what one person cannot, and what kind of creativity can be exercised in the gaps.

Q. What advice do you offer administrators trying to incorporate spirituality into their work, or who want to authentically approach their work as a ministry?

A. I don't think you need to add anything. Oftentimes, what you might need to do is subtract things in order to (free up) the space to actually reflect on what you're doing, and see where God is already present in it and already offering an infinite number of opportunities to practice "the good" in very small but substantial ways. It doesn't necessarily mean you need to take on another project, that you need to go do more good in the world, but to do what you are doing already with ever greater intentionality and consciousness.


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.